Community Appeal

220px-CharlesAChristophersonPlease read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 in your Bible.

Today we want to pause and thank God for the blessing of ministering here in Sioux Falls and all the communities in which our members and friends reside.  It may help to hear what our one of our forebears said about our community.

Charles Christopherson was elected to the US House of Representatives from South Dakota’s first congressional district, serving from 1919 to 1933.  Prior to that, he served as a representative in the South Dakota house, where he was elected Speaker in 1915.

Born to Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota, Christopherson moved to Sioux Falls in 1889 and became a lawyer, living at 1000 S. Phillips Ave.  He died in 1951 and is buried in Woodlawn cemetery.  I want to read to you some excerpted remarks that he read into the Congressional Record for 1924.

Mr. CHRISTOPHERSON: “Mr. Chairman, last winter South Dakota passed through an economic storm that closed a number of our banks. In my home town of Sioux Falls, a splendid enterprising commercial city of 35,000 people, four banks closed their doors within a period of three weeks. Articles have been written that conveyed the idea that South Dakota is in financial distress.  I refer especially to the article that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of April 12, 1924 entitled ‘That Pain in the Northwest.’  That article was based upon a superficial investigation and without any real information as to the true conditions.  Perhaps the writer was indulging in a little humor at our expense in order to make his article readable; nevertheless we of South Dakota resent the implications contained in that article.

“We who live in South Dakota know that it is as sound as gold coin.  Our land and South Dakota with its broad productive acres if all cultivated intensively could [produce] enough food for all the people of our country.  For this reason we who live in the State have abundant confidence in its prosperity.”

These stirring and proud words were spoken on the floor of the US House of Representatives in response to an article appearing in the Saturday Evening Post.  Rep. Christopherson may remind you of another politician who frequently takes exception to what is reported in t media.

CONTEXT = This is the beginning of Paul’s APPEAL to the believers in Corinth to resolve their differences in a Christ-like manner.  In v. 10 Paul made his APPEAL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, invoking the name under which they were to live as one.  The word APPEAL has a range of emotions, from “exhort” (a more assertive approach) to “entreat” (a passive approach) with “encourage” in the middle.

We have the very best reasons to practice community.

  1. God’s standards for community (10).

First, persons in community must be in agreement.  Experience teaches us that agreement is a product of people doing the hard work of communicating and compromising.  This Greek word literally means, “say the same thing.”

Second, persons in community must be without DIVISIONS.  This word (schismata) literally meant “tears” or “cracks.”  This word means “cliques;” exclusive but informal social groupings, not organized parties.

Third, persons in community must be PERFECTLY UNITED IN MIND AND THOUGHT.  The word PERFECTLY obviously refers to a depth of relationship impossible in human terms. Paul is writing about a unity that only God can bestow.  MIND AND THOUGHT seems redundant but it may be Paul’s way of emphasizing the divine degree of unity.  UNITED is also translated as “knit together,” a word used for healing broken bones.

  1. The Corinthians fell short of the standard (11-16).

Their division was ostensibly over which teacher each group followed (11-13).  However, the fact that divisions existed at all was a denial that they were organized around any of the four names listed.  QUARRELS are an indicator of worldly thinking, the influence of evil.

Though there was never a quarrel between any of the names given in verse twelve, people attempted to justify their divisions by identifying with one of the four.  They might have rationalized their choice as follows:

Paul was the founder of the church and deserved loyalty.

Apollos represented the next generation and was a brilliant preacher.

Cephas (Peter) walked with Christ and commanded great respect.

Some were ultimate name-droppers and claimed to follow none but Christ.  Perhaps this covered over a rejection of the authority of the other three men.

None of these four would approve a party mentality that put the people of the church at cross-purposes.  This is what Paul meant in his rhetorical question, IS CHRIST DIVIDED?  The obvious answer is “No.”  Quite the opposite; He is one with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Two other rhetorical questions follow.  WAS PAUL CRUCIFIED FOR YOU?  “No;” such a thing was not historically true, nor could Paul provide salvation if he were crucified for them.

WERE YOU BAPTIZED INTO THE NAME OF PAUL?  “No;” according to Acts, they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  This question denies that Paul was seeking to make converts for himself.  False teachers were trying to build their own “kingdoms” but Paul was trying to build the kingdom of God.  These three questions could have easily named Apollos or Cephas and the answers would have been the same.

The divisions involved baptism (13-16).  Elaborating on v. 13, Paul went into a lengthy recollection of his own practice of baptism.  He showed that he performed very few baptisms and therefore no one could accuse him of baptizing anyone into his name.

The three names given here are also mentioned in Acts, Romans, and 1 Corinthians as being among the first converts in Corinth.  As Paul appointed leaders in the local churches, he turned over pastoral functions (like baptizing) to them.  This is the way missions should be done.

  1. What’s at stake: why living in community is essential (17).

Paul was commissioned to PREACH THE GOSPEL, not to baptize, except as baptizing served his preaching.  In his preaching, he chose to not employ WORDS OF HUMAN WISDOM.  He did not cultivate a turn of phrase at the expense of the truth.

Great orators of the time would attempt to mesmerize their audience by clever turns of phrase or twists of logic to earn the applause of people.  Paul saw this as something akin to trickery and avoided it.  He wanted conversions to be genuine; created by the Holy Spirit, not persuasive speech-making.

Reliance on HUMAN WISDOM will result in THE CROSS OF CHRIST being EMPTIED OF ITS POWER.  The word of God has its own power to persuade people to follow Jesus.  The process is corrupted if we rely on psychology, sales techniques, technology, or any other aspect of HUMAN WISDOM.  There is a place for knowledge of human nature and these other things, but it is not first place.  First and foremost, we rely on the Holy Spirit to provide the words for preaching and to reach the heart of our listeners.  There is room for all kinds of “styles” of preaching, but in all cases a preacher’s aim should be to present Christ.

We have the very best reasons to practice community.

          In the Church, we are given all we need to live together in love.  What’s required of us is to get self out of the way so the Holy Spirit can lead us in words and deeds that build community rather than tear it down.

And – we can export what we have in church to build the communities in which we live.  Good citizenry is part of godly living.  When God commanded each of us to love our neighbor, He meant that to be taken literally as well as figuratively.

“Community” is the word we use for healthy, life-giving relationships.  Generally speaking, the things that contribute to community require putting others ahead of self.  Building community is hard work.  It is achieved by joining with others, especially those with whom we disagree.

I leave you with the challenging words of Jesus;

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, even as your heavenly father is perfect.” (MTW 5:46-48)

 

(The Lakota name for Sioux Falls is Íŋyaŋ Okábleča Otȟúŋwahe; “Stone Shatter City.”)

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul T. Marsh

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 10, W. Harold Mare

The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay

The Congressional Record of 1924  (Obtained at https://books.google.com/books?id=d2m-4x-OTDYC&pg=PA10533&lpg=PA10533&dq=bible+verses+cited+in+sioux+falls+city+documents&source=bl&ots=F4WRBMFWCH&sig=ACfU3U3B2K4dNVO2ORoJe2UMux2-4slJBg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjRza7PmLDlAhVJPK0KHYJaADsQ6AEwBnoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=bible%20verses%20cited%20in%20sioux%20falls%20city%20documents&f=false).

Defined by Faith and Fear

phobia

Phobias are fears that deeply affect the sufferer.  They are not entirely rational, and in fact, can be so strong that rational thinking is hijacked by the fear.  As we’re on the subject of fear this morning, I thought we’d begin with a look at some of the strangest fears people have.

“Nomophobia” is fear that your cell phone, for whatever reason, is going to stop working.  It’s estimated that over half of all cell phone users are affected by this fear.  Based on my experience, I’d say it’s worse than that!

“Ancraophobia” and “anemophobia” are two words for the fear of wind.  People with this phobia are anxious next to an open window or under a hair dryer.

You might guess “spectrophobia” is a fear of ghosts, but you’d be wrong.  It is a fear of mirrors and a dread of seeing one’s image in a mirror.

“Linonophobia” is a fear of string.  There is an online test you can take to assess the severity of your fear, but I’d think just waving a string around would be easier.

“Ablutophobia” sounds like a fear of Popeye’s adversary Bluto, but it’s a fear or bathing or cleansing.  Interestingly, this rare fear is more common in women and children than it is in men.

“Allodoxophobia” is, believe it or not, a fear of opinions.  Don’t you wish politicians and media types would get a dose of this?  The 24 hr. news channels would go out of business!

These are some unusual, new, and weird examples of things that people fear and they sound amusing.  However, in real life, phobias can be severe to the point of crippling a person’s life.  In those cases, serious steps need to be taken to relieve these fears.  God did not create us to live in fear, but in freedom.  While we may not be bound up by a phobia, fear still affects our thinking, attitudes, and decisions.  In our passage today, Jesus sets forth two kinds of fear.  One is good and necessary; the other is bad and unnecessary.  We’ll analyze this passage to understand which is which and how we are to deal with fear.

CONTEXT (v. 1) = Acc. to 11:38, this set of teachings was delivered in or near the home of a Pharisee, following some very strong rebukes Jesus delivered to the Pharisees.  It’s hard for us to picture a crowd this size gathering to listen to the goings-on in or near a person’s home, but it happens in the Gospels. There were so many people, Luke wrote that they numbered in MANY THOUSANDS and THEY WERE TRAMPLING ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s Gospel.

What provoked Jesus’ rebuke was His host’s fussing about Jesus not going through the ritual of washing His hands before the meal.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

  1. Three things we must not fear.

In verse four Jesus taught, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO KILL THE BODY AND AFTER THAT CAN DO NO MORE.”  Followers of Jesus know there is more to life than what this world holds. Everything in this world, including pain, is temporary.  In a sense, even death is temporary as we are raised to life to face judgment.  No matter the persecutions and trials we face in this life, we can be encouraged to know they’re nothing to be afraid of because they are temporary. Don’t waste a moment being anxious about worldly things, no matter how scary they may seem; God is more powerful than all of them and He will deliver you.

In verse seven Jesus urged, “DON’T BE AFRAID.”  His reason?  God has not forgotten you.  He cares for the most common kind of bird: you can be sure that He cares for you.  Put anxiety away; trust in his knowledge of you (HAIRS) and His high evaluation of you (MANY SPARROWS). Anxiety gains power when we doubt God loves us or that He exists at all.

Similarly, in verse seven, Jesus said, “DO NOT WORRY” referring to anxiety over people who oppose our faith.  Jesus warned His disciples that the leaders of their own people would drag them into court and persecute them.  He promised that they needn’t worry about such experiences, even about what they might say in their own defense.  His promise was the Holy Spirit would supply a defense; He would inspire them with the best possible words that would result in the best possible testimony to their persecutors.

  1. Three things we must fear.

Jesus commanded, “BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST THE YEAST OF THE PHARISEES, WHICH IS HYPOCRISY” (v. 1).  This section is an example of how the context aids interpretation.  We observed the context section above that a huge crowd had gathered.  Notice the detail in v. 1; JESUS BEGAN TO SPEAK FIRST TO HIS DISCIPLES.  This is a sidebar Jesus held with the Twelve.  He used this occasion to give them a warning about the YEAST that is HYPOCRISY.  In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.  Put these facts together and here’s what Luke is depicting: the vast crowd felt like a victory.  The temptation in this kind of situation will be to please the people so they will stay and come back for more teaching later.  This is human nature.  How many times have we seen people with a distinctly Christian witness in music or preaching become popular and immediately their witness changes, it gets watered down in order to maintain that popularity.

Jesus used the image of YEAST because it is something that works silently but effectively permeates the whole loaf.  That’s why He warned them about hidden and secret things coming to light.  Sneaky compromises with the world made just to be popular will always backfire.  Our God who sees all will also tell all, so avoid hypocrisy.  Be afraid of being exposed as a hypocrite and be sincere from the beginning.

Jesus delivered the most serious warning in verse five, “FEAR HIM WHO…HAS THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.”  While it may not sound good, this is the good kind of FEAR, the kind that motivates us to be wise to know what God commands and obedient to Him.  To be sure we get it, Jesus said “FEAR HIM” twice in this verse.

Don’t bother worrying over human violence that can only kill your body: instead, be concerned about God who has THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.  The worst any person can do is hurt and maybe kill you TEMPORARILY.  They are not worthy of fear.  What God does is eternal and HELL is eternal separation from God, which is literally THE “fate worse than death!”

Having delivered that warning in verse five, Jesus gave two promises in verses six and seven that are positive motivations to FEAR God.  First, God is mindful of SPARROWS and you are much more important than them.  Relax in the knowledge God has not FORGOTTEN you. Second, Jesus said God has taken the time to number the hairs on your head.  That kind of knowledge indicates intimacy and constant watch care over us.

Wise people fear God above all others and don’t have any fear left for hypocrites or violent punks or any other kind of threat the world can mount.  Fearing God means we don’t abuse grace by accepting His gifts and avoiding our responsibilities.

Verses eight to ten direct us to fear the consequences of disowning God.  Before that, Jesus made a promise to His followers.  Verse eight might be paraphrased as follows: “You be faithful to me and I promise I will be faithful to you, especially when it matters most; at the gates of heaven.”  Loyalty in this life is rewarded in eternity.  We don’t EARN eternal life by being loyal, but our loyalty to Christ is one aspect of a true, saving faith.  It’s interesting how Jesus referred to Himself directly in the present time and to Himself as the SON OF MAN at that future time.  If you understand the meaning of that term as it originated in Daniel 7, then you understand its significance.

Verses nine and ten are a warning to unbelievers.  Jesus is NOT trying to make His disciples anxious about their salvation; that is a bad kind of FEAR.  Instead, He is attempting to motivate unbelievers to come to faith & be saved.  To DISOWN Jesus is to be guilty of disbelief.  Disbelief is refusal to accept the truth and be changed by it reveals a person who has no faith at all.

Back to Jesus’ warning about HYPOCRISY (v. 1): these verses are a warning to unbelievers who have only a pretense of faith.  A superficial faith is more likely to turn from Jesus because of temptations or trials.  The consequence is dire: the worst possible circumstance imaginable.  DISOWN Jesus and He will DISOWN at the worst possible time, on Judgment Day.  Such a person will be lost for all eternity, cast out of God’s presence.

Verse ten has confused a lot of people.  Rather than list all the ways this warning has been interpreted, I want to tell you what I believe Jesus meant, based on the context.  Jesus’ warning there is an “unforgivable sin.”  As it is unforgiveable, the guilty party can’t be saved.  It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it is a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to an unbeliever convicting them of sin and calling them to repent, putting their trust in Jesus.  It is unforgivable because, as the previous verse indicates, the person has denied Jesus all the way to death.  When he/she stands before the throne of judgment, it is too late; they are self-condemned.  Logically, God cannot forgive those who refused His offer of forgiveness.  Our just God gives them what they wanted in this life; separation from God.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

Commenting on this passage, Darrell S. Bock wrote, “This passage asks fundamental questions about our identity.  Will we fear God or the masses?  Does our affirmation come from above or from our neighbors?”  People-pleasers are fearful folk.  We’re seeing the results of the Church in America trying to “fit in” with the culture.

On the liberal side, there is an evil spirit of accommodation.  In that case the Church has followed the dictates of political correctness, adopting it as “gospel.”

On the conservative side, there is an evil spirit of adaptation.  We have attempted to use worldly weapons of politics and money to fight ungodliness.  In fact, Charles Colson wrote in The Body, “Ironically, political flirtations and dalliances have threatened the church’s independence in the West even more than the direct opposition of Communists in the East.”

The most biblical and godly way is once again in the middle of these extremes.  We need to stay true to Scripture and away from worldly philosophies and methodologies.  We need to be sensible consumers and critics of culture, employing prayer, scripture, and positive responses as often as possible.

This battle is not for our culture, but for the people mired in it.  We direct our efforts at individuals to save them.  Culture and government are not our tools.  We rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God.  We do not have to win in this world because we know this world is doomed to destruction and are assured that God is going to win.  Only what is of Him survives.  That is our only concern.

 

RESOURCES:

The Body, Charles Colson

The NIV Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock

Ten Completely Bizarre And Completely Weird Phobias

 

A Fond Farewell

Please read Acts 20:17-38 in your Bible.

A Tearful Farewell_vFinal(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

We must love one another deeply.

          The CONTEXT of this passage is provided by verses sixteen and seventeen.  Paul was making his way back to Jerusalem sailing along the coast of Asia Minor.  His haste was so great he chose not to put into the harbor at Ephesus, but sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him at a place called Miletus.  There were other factors in this decision, but the text reports only Paul’s desire to reach Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost (29 May 57).

Based on the reaction of the ELDERS, I wonder if Paul anticipated that the church would want to keep him and he wanted to avoid a long goodbye.  In any case, Paul called the official leaders of the church to him and gave them a message to take back to the members.

  1. Paul’s departure provoked deep emotions. (vs. 36-38)

Their time together ended with prayer.  As a demonstration of reverence for God, all of them KNELT DOWN.  What Luke may be describing here in very few words, is a service of ordination.  Kneeling and prayer have been part of ordinations from the beginning, along with the laying on hands.  A group ordination fits with Paul’s purpose in meeting with the ELDERS, to prepare them for his absence.

In their culture embracing and kissing were typical greetings, so this doesn’t necessarily convey deep love.  However, weeping and grieving do imply a deep love between Paul and the ELDERS.  Verse 38 tells us they accompanied Paul to his ship.  I assume this detail means they were reluctant to be parted from Paul and wanted to keep an eye on him as long as they could.

  1. The deepest love is founded on shared service to Christ. (18-35)

Paul’s focus was on Jesus Christ.  Paul was a “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) follower of Christ; there was no pretense in his exercise of faith and ministry.  When he said “YOU KNOW HOW I LIVED…” (18) that was a completely accurate statement.  Modern politicians like to talk about transparency, but Paul practiced it.

His statement in verse nineteen would sound self-contradictory if it were spoken by anyone else: I SERVED THE  LORD WITH GREAT HUMILITY.  Note the object of the sentence is THE LORD.  Paul’s focus on Jesus did not allow room for selfish ambition, a vice he condemned four times in his letters (2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:16; 2:3).

If you take time to look at it, Paul’s selflessness is indicated twice in this phrase alone.  The word SERVED is used to indicate slavery.  Paul identified himself as a slave of Jesus Christ more than a dozen times.

GREAT HUMILITY summarizes the details that will follow; all the aspects of selfless devotion and self-sacrifice Paul demonstrated over the years.

Verse 24 passionately states Paul’s devotion to Jesus and his determination to do what Christ commanded.  He said, “I CONSIDER MY OWN LIFE WORTH NOTHING TO ME, IF ONLY I MAY FINISH THE RACE AND COMPLETE THE TASK THE LORD JESUS HAS GIVEN ME.”  It is pretty easy to claim GREAT HUMILITY; here Paul gives evidence of it in his attitude.  He does not consider his own life as valuable on its own, only as it gives him opportunity to work for Jesus.

The TASK Jesus assigned to him was to testify to the GOSPEL OF GOD’S GRACE.  Paul had ambition, but it was grounded in faith.  It was to FINISH THE RACE and COMPLETE THE TASK; Paul wanted no part of his calling left undone, no matter the cost.

What never motivated Paul was financial gain.  He goes into some detail in verses 33-35 to prove this point.

First, he pointed out his attitude: I HAVE NOT COVETED (33).  In contrast to false teachers whose major motive for church work was greed, Paul had no desire for material compensation of any kind.

Second, he pointed out his ambition: THESE HANDS OF MINE HAVE SUPPLIED MY OWN NEEDS AND THE NEEDS OF MY COMPANIONS (34).

Paul avoided all charges of greed by refusing all kinds of support.  He supported himself and his associates by working his trade as a tentmaker.  We know from 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 and Philippians 4:15-16 that Paul accepted gifts from churches after he’d left them, but observed a strict separation of finances.  This was a decision Paul made for his own ministry; we have no evidence he was commanded to operate this way, nor did he command other pastors to work outside the church.  Instead, he argued for a fair wage for full-time church workers (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18).

Third, he pointed out his altruism: I SHOWED YOU THAT BY…HARD WORK WE MUST HELP THE WEAK (35).  This was based on the teaching of Jesus whom Paul quoted as saying, “IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE.”  In addition to teaching this truth, Paul set an example in his own service and in his leadership of the church’s service. Interestingly, these words of Jesus are not found in any of the Gospels.  This may have been something Jesus said to Paul alone or just not reported in the Gospels.

The Apostle Paul clearly had a tender heart for the Ephesian church.  He made two references to TEARS: “I SERVED THE LORD…WITH TEARS (19+31)”.  He gave THE PLOTS OF THE JEWS as one of the reason for his tears.  Their plotting did not prevent Paul from preaching to His native people as he made clear in v. 21.  A simple fact of ministry to people is that TEARS are an occupational hazard.  It is a sign of genuine love.

His tenderheartedness compelled Paul to tell the Ephesians the whole truth in his preaching and teaching. This is expressed in three statements.

“I WOULD NOT HAVE HESITATED TO PREACH ANYTHING THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HELPFUL TO YOU (20).”  This verse speaks to boldness in preaching; Paul did not avoid subjects because they would invite opposition.   The content of his preaching was not limited to what was popular or easy.  He preached everything that was HELPFUL to the church’s health and growth.

“I…TAUGHT PUBLICLY AND FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE (20).”  Paul carried out both avenues of pastoral ministry; public and private.  In our study of Acts we saw that Paul preached in the Jewish synagogues, in a lecture hall owned by Tyrannus, and in the marketplace; all public venues.  The early church also met in homes, but these meetings were not limited to a single family, they were simply smaller venues into which the church gathered.

“I HAVE DECLARED TO BOTH JEWS AND GREEKS (21).”  Paul presented the Gospel to all the people of Ephesus, not excluding or favoring either of these groups.  His message to all of them was the same: THEY MUST TURN TO GOD IN REPENTANCE AND HAVE FAITH IN OUR LORD JESUS.

“FOR THREE YEARS I NEVER STOPPED WARNING YOU DAY AND NIGHT (v. 31).” Paul did not seek popularity in his messages, sticking to the truth even to the degree that his messages consisted of warnings.

The purpose of this meeting was for Paul to transfer his authority in leading the church to the ELDERS (25-32).  They would lead the church from now on.

“NONE OF YOU…WILL EVER SEE ME AGAIN (25).”  In v. 22 Paul declared his uncertainty about what would happen to him in Jerusalem but he was certain he would never return to Ephesus.  That’s why he went to all this trouble to prepare the ELDERS to take over for him.

On the basis of the integrity of his service (27), Paul announced the church was no longer his responsibility: “I AM INNOCENT OF THE BLOOD OF ALL MEN (26).” This comment reflects Ezekiel 3:17-21 where the prophet was told his responsibility by the figure of the watchman on the wall is responsible to give a warning of danger.  He is then not responsible for anyone who refuses to heed the warning and act appropriately.  Because Paul DID NOT HESITATE to give this warning, his responsibility is ended.  He can leave Ephesus and never return with a clear conscience.

Paul made the ELDERS responsible for the church in Ephesus (28). He called them OVERSEERS and SHEPHERDS, in charge and in care of the membership.  He stated that the HOLY SPIRIT had put them in these positions.  The value of the church (and thereby the seriousness of their responsibility) is not overstated when Paul reminded them that Christ bought the Church WITH HIS BLOOD.  He warned them that their service would be fraught with trials (29-31); they would have occasion for tears of their own.

In light of these truths, Paul commanded them twice to be wary.  In contrast to the SAVAGE WOLVES – the false teachers – the ELDERS are to carefully maintain their integrity.

The first warning is in verse 28: “KEEP WATCH OVER YOURSELVES.”  This command is not limited to keeping their integrity but includes practicing what we might call “adequate self-care,” maintaining physical health and spiritual growth.

The second warning is in verse 30: “BE ON YOUR GUARD!” Compromising one’s integrity can be a slow process, one small step at a time.  Only vigilance will keep any of these ELDERS from becoming one of the WOLVES that will arise from within the church (FROM YOUR OWN NUMBER).

He commissioned them in v. 32; urging them to rely on God’s GRACE.  It is God alone who can build us up and secure for us AN INHERITANCE AMONG ALL THOSE WHO ARE SANCTIFIED.  Faithful service is our part; fruitful labor is God’s blessing.  God intends His Church to succeed in making disciples and extending His Kingdom in this world.

Paul endured opposition to his service.  In verse nineteen Paul noted he was SEVERELY TESTED BY THE JEWS in Ephesus.  He did not allow their opposition to silence his proclaiming the message.  He continued to use their synagogues and other public places to preach about salvation in Christ.  In fact, there was nothing that would make him hesitate (v. 19) from fulfilling that TASK Jesus had given him to do (v. 24).

The other thing Paul did not hesitate to do was go to Jerusalem (vs. 22-23).  Paul was COMPELLED BY THE SPIRIT to go there and he was determined to be obedient to God, though he had been warned he would face PRISON and HARDSHIPS.  Paul was not deterred by PRISON or HARDSHIPS in part because he considered his own life as being worth something only as it allowed him to FINISH and COMPLETE the TASK OF TESTIFYING that Jesus had given him.

We must love one another deeply.

          The Apostle Peter shared this perspective.  Under the Spirit’s direction he recorded these words in 1 Peter 4:8, ABOVE ALL, LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY, BECAUSE LOVE COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS.  This verse establishes both the priority of deep love (ABOVE ALL) and the effect of deep love (COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS), that is, forgives offenses.  This is the kind of love evidenced in our passage in Acts, the kind of love Paul demonstrated.

Love is not optional; it is a command and is a necessity.  The church cannot be the church without the deep love that COVERS OVER offenses, allowing people to go forward in faith.

Love also feels better; it’s more fun to forgive and move forward than to nurse grudges.  We all make mistakes and we’re all guilty of giving offense; we can’t avoid it all the time, so it’s necessary that we exercise deep love and overcome the offenses with forgiveness.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Eckhard J. Schnabel.

Put On Your Work Clothes (Part Two)

Armor of God_final (2)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.

CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end.  They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times.  In Philippians he used it twice!  Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.

Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject.  The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

  1. True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)

In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.”  This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated.  Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.

As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength.  In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.  Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis.  POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important.  The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially.  His strength is all we need.  It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.

Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve).  The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another.  Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.

Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil.  He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD.  The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons.  Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.

Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people.  There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other.  While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.

Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types.  It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.

There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction.  One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality.  It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned.  Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil.  The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven.  That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.

According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND.  The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.

Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming.  Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life.  We needn’t be too literal here.

In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials.  AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen.  Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD.  This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.

Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM.  God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact.  The word means “stand against” or “resist.”

  1. Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)

#1 = THE BELT OF TRUTH BUCKLED AROUND YOUR WAIST.

This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.”  The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.

Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well.  Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves.  More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.

It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt.  As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.

#2 = THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.”  RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.

The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE.  This is a symbol of close fellowship with God.  To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.

#3 = FEET FITTED WITH THE READINESS THAT COMES FROM THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND.  Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point.  The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS.  In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare.  However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace.  Peace is the heart of the Good News.

The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth.  Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie.  In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.”  When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.

Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God.  Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it.  By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.

#4 = THE SHIELD OF FAITH, WITH WHICH YOU CAN EXTINGUISH ALL THE FLAMING ARROWS OF THE EVIL ONE.

FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands.  A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands.  A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick.  It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it.  If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows.  This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows.  Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.

In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.”  The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them.  Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.

In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE.  This is a reminder of v. 12.  This is essentially a spiritual war.  Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.

A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations.  Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.

#5 = THE HELMET OF SALVATION.

While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.”  God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION.  There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming.  Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.

A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision.  To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).

#6 = THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD.

A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory.  The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil.  (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD.  It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)

On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy.  The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.”  This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)

This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives.  Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.

  1. Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)

(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war.  Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)

Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer.  In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them.  Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer.  The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit.                 Prayer is not a performance or a ritual.  It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27).  The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue.  There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers.  God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray.  so what we can see and hear is only the surface.

Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.

– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.”  One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?”  It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.

– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.”  When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.

– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS.  Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.

WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us.  In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.

To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen.  The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.

Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH.  In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).

SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor.  Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!

Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!)  It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.

Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS.  Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.

As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.

One, we act as if there were no war going on at all.  The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture.  That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church.  However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church.  The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction.  As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.

Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil.  The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.

Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is.  Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy.  In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.

There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there.  This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers.  Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.

In short, we are the Israelites all over again.  We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another.  We accept idols and reject the living God.

For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war.  In part, living is struggling.  We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied.  Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious.  May the same be said of us.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Authority Redeemed

Authority Redeemed_vfinal (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 5:21-6:9 in your Bible of choice.

“Benjamin West was just trying to be a good babysitter for his little sister Sally. While his mother was out, Benjamin found some bottles of colored ink and proceeded to paint Sally’s portrait. But by the time Mrs. West returned, ink blots stained the table, chairs, and floor. Benjamin’s mother surveyed the mess without a word until she saw the picture. Picking it up she exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” She bent down and kissed her young son.
“In 1763, when he was 25 years old, Benjamin West was selected as history painter to England’s King George III. He became one of the most celebrated artists of his day. Commenting on his start as an artist, he said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” Her encouragement did far more than a rebuke ever could have done.
“It’s easy to notice the wrong in a child, but difficult to look beyond an innocent offense to see an act of creativity and love. What a challenge to raise our children according to God’s standards, knowing when to say, ‘It’s a mess!’ and when to say, ‘Why, it’s Sally!’” -D. C. McCasland at https://www.preceptaustin.org/ephesians_sermon_illustrations_6

CONTEXT = In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus demonstrated that our relationship with God trumps family, church, and all human relationships.  In v. 21, Paul reminds us that mutual submission is to characterize all relationships in the Church.  Our other relationships flow from our relationships to God and the Church.

Notice a pattern in the three sections of our passage; Paul addresses the follower first, the leader second: the marriage section begins with the word WIVES, the parenting section begins with the word CHILDREN, and the slavery section begins with the word SLAVES.  The Greek adds the article before the noun, but is otherwise exactly the same.  Listing the subordinate member first may be Paul’s way to equalizing their status a bit.

Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.

  1. In redeemed marriages, the cultural model was challenged and changed.

In redeemed marriages, wives were to submit to the husband’s authority.  Verse 22 plainly states WIVES, SUBMIT TO YOUR HUSBANDS AS TO THE LORD.  No one would seriously claim equality with Christ.  (Although, Romans 8:17 tells us we are CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST.)  Paul considered submission a “given” and offered this example to illustrate the principle.  He didn’t argue against the cultural norm, but redeemed it.

An equally plain statement was made in verse 24: NOW AS THE CHURCH SUBMITS TO CHRIST, SO ALSO WIVES SHOULD SUBMIT TO THEIR HUSBANDS IN EVERYTHING.  Paul was always an advocate of order and here he calls for orderly marital relations by bringing an end to competition between husband and wife.  The standard he describes here is theological as it is based on the Church’s submission to Christ, and it is total, as the word EVERYTHING indicates.

In verse 33 Paul added respect to submission: THE WIFE MUST RESPECT HER HUSBAND.  This does not mean that RESPECT only goes one way.  Paul’s inspired command challenged a culture where the wife’s only recourse was passive-aggressive forms of disrespect.  RESPECT is commanded for all relationships in the church: 1 Peter 2:17 said, SHOW PROPER RESPECT TO EVERYONE: LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD OF BELIEVERS, FEAR GOD, HONOR THE KING.

In redeemed marriages husbands were to temper the exercise of their authority.  The command to love appears in verse 25; HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH.  Paul directly opposed a Grecian culture that had removed love from marriage and a Roman culture that had made marriage a revolving door.  He held husbands to the highest possible standard of love; the same love that Christ showed His Church, as described in detail in vs. 26-27.

As verse 25 is the maximum standard for love, verse 28 is the minimum: IN THIS SAME WAY, HUSBANDS OUGHT TO LOVE THEIR WIVES AS THEIR OWN BODIES.  HE WHO LOVES HIS WIFE LOVES HIMSELF.  Paul’s appeal was directed at men, who tend to be self-centered.  But they can be counted on to care for themselves.  In this sense, the husband is to love his wife no less than he loves himself.  Paul is not herein approving self-centeredness, he is effectively saying, “If loving your wife the way Christ love the Church seems too difficult at the moment, then at least show here as much care and you show self-care.

  1. In redeemed families, the cultural model was challenged and changed.

In redeemed families, children (a term which included people of elementary age to early 20s) were to honor and obey their parents. (vs. 1-3)  A qualifier is given: IN THE LORD. Obedience is best realized in the context of our relationship with Christ, subject to Him.

A reason is given: FOR THIS IS RIGHT.  Obedience to one’s parents is simply the correct way to treat them.  SUBMIT is not as strong a word as OBEY.

Another reason is given: honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments, the only one with a promise attached; long and productive life.  Thus, a motive for honoring your parents is for your own blessing.

Obedience characterizes the childhood years and fades when our kids become adults.  However, the command to HONOR one’s parents is a life-long directive.

In redeemed families, fathers were to temper the exercise of their authority.  (The Greek word for FATHERS could also be translated as “parents.”)  Specifically, FATHERS were not to EXASPERATE their children.  Children can become exasperated when their will is thwarted; that is natural and is not the responsibility of the parent.  The child is morally responsible for their exasperation on that occasion.

However, exasperation also appears when authority is abused or unfairly applied; when parents are insensitive to the feelings of their children, being legalistic or harsh.  Instead of exasperation, fathers are to give TRAINING AND INSTRUCTION based on the Lord’s teachings.  Parents are to teach the biblical and moral reasons behind the rules so their children’s hearts are attuned to the Lord.

This affirms the teaching set forth in Deuteronomy 6:7, that the family is the primary means of instruction in the faith.  God puts families together (Psalm 68:6) for several reasons; it is the basic social unit of civilized life.

  1. In redeemed households, the practice of slavery was challenged and changed.

In redeemed households, slaves were to obey their masters.  It is estimated that 35% of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves.  Slavery then was practiced in significantly different ways than it was practiced here, but it was no more humane.

Paul qualified obedience 5 ways.

– WITH RESPECT.

– WITH…FEAR.

– WITH SINCERITY OF HEART.

– AS YOU WOULD OBEY CHRIST

– WHOLEHEARTEDLY or “with goodwill.”

Paul explained the depth of obedience.  It is not superficial, but supernatural.  First, obedience is given even when the master is NOT watching, when it will not guarantee a favorable outcome.  Second, obedience is to be given because doing so earns us an eternal REWARD, not the earthly reward of the master’s FAVOR.

In redeemed households, masters were to treat their slaves with respect out of fear of their MASTER IN HEAVEN.  For Paul to command slave owners to have this kind of attitude was directly contrary to the attitudes and actions of non-Christian slave owners; very radical of Paul.  Notice that even though there is a huge inequality between masters and slaves, masters were ordered to treat their slaves IN THE SAME WAY that the slaves were to treat the masters!  This implies an equality of RESPECT, FEAR, and SINCERITY.

There is a theological reason for this deferential treatment of slaves; SINCE YOU KNOW THAT HE WHO IS BOTH THEIR MASTER AND YOURS IS IN HEAVEN, AND THERE IS NO FAVORITISM WITH HIM.  You could understand if a slave or master felt that God showed FAVORITISM, but Paul assures us that is not the case.  This fits perfectly with Paul’s important statement about equality in God’s sight: THERE IS NEITHER JEW NOR GREEK, SLAVE NOR FREE, MALE NOR FEMALE, FOR YOU ARE ONE IN CHRIST JESUS (Galatians 8:28).  In the Old Testament slavery was regulated in a comparatively more benevolent way, but Paul’s teaching here goes beyond that.  He’s saying that in Christ – in every way that really counts – slaves and masters are equals.  Mutual respect should characterize their relationship as well.  A master is not allowed to use threatening or abusive behavior toward his slaves.  His authority is tempered by the love of Christ in his heart.

Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.

Throughout this section, Paul wrote candidly about the culture within which he lived.  He did not approve the culture’s practices, nor did he express disapproval.  This is true even in the section on slavery.

Instead, he challenged the Christians in that culture.  Those who follow Jesus Christ were to live to a higher standard, one that was divine in origin.  When the worldly culture left wives no other recourse but passive-aggressiveness, God called wives to win love with respectful submission.  When the worldly culture gave the husband unlimited authority, God’s word challenged husbands to temper their authority with love.

When the culture gave children no protections, God promised a long life to those who obeyed their parents.  When the culture gave fathers absolute authority, God commanded them to be sensitive to the feelings of their children, in keeping with the ultimate aim of bringing them to maturity in life and faith.

When the culture put slaves at the absolute bottom rung of the social ladder, God commanded them to render service to their master by the measure of the service they owed Jesus Christ.  When masters were given the authority of life and death, God commanded them to treat their slaves just as their heavenly Father treated them.

I believe we trivialize this passage when we search for legalisms.  There’s something much more profound at work here than settling the question of who’s in charge.  In this passage, the existing culture is merely noted as inadequate.  God revealed to Paul that there is a higher standard to which God’s people are called.  The principle behind the teaching on all three kinds of relationships is made obvious in verse twenty-one: SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.  That is the portion of the passage that applies to all relationships and is portable to all situations.  If we seek to know how to order our marital relationships, family relationships, and work relationships, we must start there and find ways to apply the general principle to our unique situations.

 

RESOURCES:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Talking About Christ and the Church

Please read Ephesians 5:21-33 in your favorite Bible.

Wedding Cake (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Some social commentators express grave concern over the state of marriage in our culture.  I believe there is good reason for our concern as several cultural shifts have weakened our national commitment to marriage.

However, we don’t hold a candle to the depravity of the culture in which the Apostle Paul lived.  In Greek culture, wives were kept in the house, their sole function to bear and raise children and manage the household.  Prostitutes met the husband’s desires for intimacy and companionship.  In the first 500 years of the Roman republic there was not a single recorded case of divorce.  Under the emperors, Roman culture degenerated to the degree that marriage was a revolving door.  The historian Jerome wrote of a woman who was married to her 23rd husband and she was his 21st wife.  Juvenal told of a woman who had eight husbands in five years.  Against the backdrop of such depravity, our situation seems rather tame.

Into that setting the Church arose and dared to say that marriage was a life-long union between one man and one woman for their mutual love and joy!  You can imagine how some received that teaching.

CONTEXT = Having set forth the principles of godly relationships in 3:14-5:20, now he uses three types of relationships to illustrate what difference all that teaching makes.  He used the relationship between husbands and wives (5:22-33), children and parents (6:1-4), and slaves to masters (6:5-9) as examples of how the principles of unity and maturity work in each set of relationships.

But there’s something about the marriage relationship that sets it apart from the other two kinds of relationships: Paul used the marriage relationship as a symbol of the relationship of Jesus Christ and His Church.  Our title uses Paul’s plain statement in v. 32: I AM TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.

This will be our approach this morning.  Rather than waste time trying to resolve the “battle of the sexes,” we want to draw out the theology of the Church that Paul taught by using marriage as a metaphor.  In order to understand the metaphor, we have to look at it from that point of view, not from our cultural perspective.

God’s standard for marriage is related to Christ’s relationship to His Church.

  1. Christ is the Head of the Church. (21-24)

We demonstrate our REVERENCE FOR CHRIST in mutual submission.  This is a statement of general principle and there is no distinction of gender or any other factor.  Mutual submission is the counter-cultural norm in the churches that worship Jesus Christ.  In mutual submission, everyone submits to everyone else, putting the needs of the church and the other believers ahead of their own needs.

Mutual submission is motivated by REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.  Because we put Jesus first, we put His people second, and self last.  Any rearranging of these essential priorities exposes a claim to faith as false.

The word SUBMIT is key: let’s understand it the way Paul understood it.  It meant giving voluntary subordination to someone deserving RESPECT (v. 33).  The phrase AS TO THE LORD (v. 22) sets a high standard for the one deserving respect and it casts the whole teaching in the brighter light of the Church’s relationship with Christ.

In Paul’s culture, the submission of the wife to the husband was normal.  Verse 22 calls all believers to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we think submission will be easy because Jesus is an “absentee landlord;” He’s in heaven, removed from earth.  Not so.  Jesus is very involved in all our lives.  In the same way that a wife’s submission to her husband’s authority was required in order to form a marriage, so is submission to Jesus’ lordship a prerequisite to true faith.

Verse 23 sees a husband as a symbol of Jesus Christ in two ways.  First, they saw the man’s decision to take a wife as the first cause of the formation of a family.  Similarly, the word HEAD means the Church exists because Jesus decided to form it.

Second, the word HEAD carries a sense of authority.  No one disputes that Jesus is HEAD OF THE CHURCH in much the same way people of Paul’s day assumed the husband to be “head” of the family.

But there’s a theological element in v. 23 as well: Christ is the SAVIOR of the Church, whereas the husband is not the savior of the wife.  This theological element prevents us from turning Paul’s use of metaphor into a legalism that determines marital relationships in our own time.

In verse 24 Paul reversed the metaphor.  In vs. 22+23 he started with marriage as a metaphor of faith.  In v. 24 he started with faith and used it as a metaphor of marriage.  The way he intertwines and compares the two, Paul’s intent is clearly to talk about more than marriage.  In all this, he’s explaining how the standard of mutual submission is similar to the marriage relationship.

His purpose is certainly not to establish a law for marriage, as that would be contrary to all the clear statements that are contrary to the law that he made in numerous places in his letters.  He’s merely using marriage as it was known to himself and his readers as a reference point to explain that submission to Jesus is what’s expected.

  1. Christ demonstrated his love by self-sacrifice. (25-30)

As the husband is the symbol for Christ, he is appealed to in v. 25.  Paul’s appeal is to practice a self-emptying love, a sacrificial love that puts the beloved before self: HE GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER.  Verses 26-27 list specific ways Jesus enacted His sacrificial love.

TO MAKE HER HOLY is the first.  The word HOLY has different meanings, but based on the context, I’d say Paul is emphasizing HOLY as moral/spiritual purity.

People assume the phrase CLEANSING HER BY THE WASHING WITH WATER THROUGH THE WORD refers to baptism.  I don’t believe so.  Instead, I believe Paul referenced Ezekiel 16:1-7, a touching passage where God found orphaned Israel, cleaned her up, and took her as His bride.

Jesus’ ultimate purpose in this is to PRESENT HER TO HIMSELF as His bride (Revelation 19:6-9).  Through a process similar to the one allegorized in Ezekiel 16, she will be a RADIANT CHURCH, not aglow from anything in herself, but reflecting the glory of God.  The Church will be WITHOUT STAIN OR WRINKLE OR ANY OTHER BLEMISH, being forgiven all her sins and everyone cleansed from all unrighteousness.  Set apart to Christ alone, the purified Church will be HOLY AND BLAMELESS.

In vs. 28-30, Paul returned to the use of the HUSBANDS as a symbol of Jesus.  As men, husbands practice self-care.  Most men attend to matters of hygiene and health on a daily basis.  As husbands, most men attend to providing for their family’s needs on a daily basis. 0 In a similar way, Christ cares for His Church (29).  He provides for us and protects us, and nurtures life for our sake.  We are all – both male and female – MEMBERS OF HIS BODY (30).

  1. Saving faith requires us to leave the world and love the Lord. (31-33)

Verse 31 quotes Genesis 2:24, the portion of the creation account where God instituted marriage.  The phrase FOR THIS REASON does not refer to the reasons any of us have for getting married, that’s relatively trivial.  When we go back to Genesis 2 the context gives us the reason: God created men and women to relieve loneliness and create a partnership that would facilitate humanity fulfilling His command to BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER (Genesis 1:28).

This means the Church fulfills similar functions: the Church was created to relieve loneliness and be a partnership that extends the Kingdom of God all over the world.  Becoming ONE is not an end, it is a means to that end.  Unity and maturity are virtues, but they are means to fulfill our mandate to make disciples.

In v. 32 Paul used the word MYSTERY, a word we explored back in chapter 3.  It means something that was previously unknown coming to light.  Anyone who is married will acknowledge that marriage is a MYSTERY, but Paul made it plain this teaching is about something more PROFOUND when he wrote I AM TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.  (This is our Key Verse.)  In the next two sections, Paul does not analogize the relationships as he does in this marriage section.

This sets the marriage section apart and proves that Paul has more in mind here than instructing married couples.  There is both theological and relational teaching here.  The analogy is completed in v. 33, where LOVE is what Christ (as the “husband”) bestows upon the Church and the Church (as the “wife”) returns His love with RESPECT.

God’s standard for marriage is related to Christ’s relationship to His Church.

The best way to understand the Bible is to first understand what the words meant to the writer and his original audience.  We have to get into their culture, their language, their situation to really appreciate what these words MEANT to them.

Having been diligent in that first step allows us to recognize the eternal truths that are conveyed in that original context.  With these principles in hand, we can apply them to our own situation, using words and symbols that convey that meaning to people of our own time and culture, in language that best communicates those principles.

Paul is clearly calling husbands and wives to a higher standard of relationship.  By using marriage as a symbol of Christ and His Church, Paul exalted the marriage relationship above that of the parent-child relationship and the master-slave relationship, which he mentions but does not use as a theological illustration.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #369

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Wise Guys (and Gals)

Please read Ephesians 5:15-20 in your go-to version of the Bible.

Wise Guys and Gals (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

I came across this bit of wisdom that has undoubtedly made the rounds on the internet but also bears repeating:

The SIX most important words: “I admit I made a mistake.”
The FIVE most important words: “You did a good job.”
The FOUR most important words: “What do you think?”
The THREE most important words: “After you, please.”
The TWO most important words: “Thank you.”
The ONE most important word: “We”
The LEAST important word: “I”

This set of important words is the kind of attitude the Apostle Paul commanded the Ephesian church to have.  This is the last of the section where he urged them to behave in these ways and will next turn to three specific sets of typical relationships where these imperatives may be applied.

CONTEXT = Much of the book of Ephesians is about relationships and that may be another good reason for closely studying this book.  Having good relations does not come automatically; sometimes they don’t come easily.  Being wise, spiritual, and knowledgeable makes relationship-building better.

The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.

  1. Wise people make best use of every opportunity to build relationships. (15-17)

As is often done in the book of Proverbs, Paul explained wisdom by comparing it to foolishness.  The first of two comparisons is between the wise and foolish person.  Paul didn’t directly describe the UNWISE/FOOLISH person because the point is the UNWISE person fails to do what the wise person does.

Paul does give details about “wise guys/gals” in these verses.

– They are CAREFUL how they LIVE.  Wise people are proactive, sensitive, and motivated by love to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.

– They make the MOST OUT OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY.  In the Greek, this is a word picture of a savvy businessman who sees the condition of the market and acts in a way to make a profit.

– They recognize THE DAYS ARE EVIL.  To follow up on the meaning behind the phrase MAKE THE MOST, Paul implied sensitivity to our situation is necessary for appropriate action and thereby success.  In this case, the wise person sees THE DAYS ARE EVIL and makes the most of every opportunity to do GOOD to counter-act the evil.  These DAYS ARE EVIL because they are full of worldly enticements to sin and because the times as we know them will soon end.

– They UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LORD’S WILL IS.  When God gives us unexpected insights into His will, that’s called prophecy.  That’s one way we understand His will.  Most of the time we come to an understanding of God’s will by putting in time and effort of our own, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  Activities that increase our understanding are prayer, Bible study, conversation with brothers and sisters, and acts of service and witness.

  1. People Filled with the Holy Spirit share in building maturity and unity. (18-20)

Here is the second contrast: drunkenness versus the Filling of the Spirit.  There are at least two big problems with drunkenness.  One, the Bible identifies it as a sin.  (See Proverbs 20:1; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 5:21; 1 Timothy 3:8.)

Two, as Paul observes here, it leads to other sins: it LEADS TO DEBAUCHERY.  DEBAUCHERY means “wild living;” it is indulging every fleshly appetite.  The relationship between drunkenness and sin is obvious and has been proven many times in human experience.  Alcohol is a depressant and it has the effect of lowering one’s inhibitions.  In a state of impaired judgment, people are more likely to do the wrong thing.  Drunkenness often makes a person more vulnerable to peer pressure.

Instead of being “under the influence of spirits,” wise people are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  The “Filling of the Spirit” is a word picture of spiritual maturity.  If maturity could be measured as a volume, the maturing person is “filled” with the Spirit, where an immature person has little or none.

Paul listed three ways in which Spirit-filled people help each other mature in the faith.  To one degree or another, these three examples happen in the context of shared worship.  The first is to SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER in worshipful, musical ways.

– PSALMS are songs of praise that are preserved in the Old Testament book of Psalms.

– HYMNS refer to epic ballads sung by pagans in praise of their gods and heroes; in this case, offer praise to God instead.

– SPIRITUAL SONGS can be the opposite of secular songs or spontaneous, Spirit-inspired music.  Either way, it’s SPIRITUAL because it comes from God.

No matter which kind of music we make, the objective is to SING AND MAKE MUSIC IN YOUR HEART TO THE LORD.  Truly worshipful music is sincere (it comes from the inner person, the HEART) and is directed to the Lord.  As someone observed years ago, we tend to think of worship the wrong way.  We see God as the director, worship leaders as performers, and the people as the audience.  Biblically, the worship leaders are the directors, the people are the performers, and God is the audience!

The second way we can help each other mature is to encourage the attitude of gratitude in each other = ALWAYS GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER FOR EVERYTHING IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.  Contra Unitarians, let’s note all three members of the Trinity in are mentioned in 18-20.  Let’s note the two words that make this command unconditional: ALWAYS and EVERYTHING.  Let’s notice that gratitude motivates our worship.  We gather because we are grateful for what we’ve done.

I’m saving v. 21 for next Sunday, so I’ll only briefly mention this third way believers help each other: mutual submission.  While it is good in some contexts, competition is inappropriate and can be toxic in the church.  Mutual submission requires humility, the death of pride, and putting others ahead of one’s self.

The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.

Ironically, the last 25 years has seen a proliferation of communication technology and a decrease in communicating.  What we’ve also seen is an emphasis on emotional intelligence to facilitate better relationships while our culture isolates us from each other.

That said, the emotional intelligence industry is a good thing.  While it’s not biblical, it gives scientific insight into human nature that is consistent with what the Bible reveals about people.

For example, emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutchendorf suggests six habits of relationship-builders.  Here’s an abridged version of his article.

  1. BECOME A GREAT LISTENER. Most people are too busy thinking of what they want to say next to really listen to what the other person is saying. We naturally bond with people who really listen, hear us, and that we’d want to relate to.
  2. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. The best way to let people know that we hear them is to dig deeper and ask questions.
  3. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WHOLE PERSON. Focus not only on the words, also the tone of their words, but also facial expression and body language.
  4. REMEMBER THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO OTHERS. Remembering people’s names, what is important to them, keeping facts accurate.
  5. BE CONSISTENT AND MANAGE EMOTIONS. Regardless of how we are feeling, we need to be able to temporarily put those feelings aside to fully listen and engage others. If we are experiencing strong emotions, we are better off letting this individual know what is going on.
  6. BE OPEN AND SHARE WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT. To build strong relationships we need to be able to pace ourselves and share when it’s appropriate to the depth of the relationship.

 

RESOURCES:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Message #778

https://bible.org/illustration/most-important-words-getting-along-people

https://www.fastcompany.com/3041774/7-key-habits-for-building-better-relationships